What is the importance of senior care residents developing and maintaining social connections, whether with other residents, staff, family, or friends?
Developing and maintaining resident social connections is critically important, and there is a direct link between connectedness and wellness. It’s easy to find studies on this. The ability to have regular and meaningful interactions with others creates routines and habits. It encourages seniors to remember things because they want to be able to talk with their ecosystem. They also feel more accountable and important when they know people are interacting and asking them about their habits.
What are some common challenges that can make it difficult to establish and maintain these connections?
Technology creates a barrier. Most people under the age of 60 are using phones – texting and apps. This isolates seniors who struggle with that kind of technology because of visual or tactile impairments that come with aging. Most group interactions happen on a smartphone. Traditional phone calls are not “normal,” especially for Gen Z, so the format of communication has left many seniors isolated.
How do you recommend senior care facilities support and facilitate resident social connections?
There are traditional ways to create resident social connections, like Bingo, crafts, or bus trips. But our company was founded on the belief that we need to bridge the technical gap and make it possible for seniors to join in the conversation using a realistic technical format. As such, we use voice assistants like Alexa that only require a senior to speak. They can send and receive “text” messages, request assistance, and consume content – all using their voice and without the need to learn apps on a smartphone. Bridging that “user interface” divide is necessary to really bring our elders back into the mix.
Are there any activities or programming that you find particularly valuable in supporting social connections?
Creating common content to interact with has been very successful. Things like “tell me your first job” or “who was your first love” are ageless, and getting people talking, using whatever format possible, connects people beyond age. Everyone of every age has the same need to share their thoughts, beliefs, and ideas – so creating a forum that proactively connects people on a topic, eliminating the need to search for something to talk about, really helps. This can take the form of a text message to a family member suggesting a topic. Or, a trivia game that can be played together (even remotely), and educate those involved to use it as a point of reference for a deeper conversation. It’s not hard to get a senior to tell you about the interesting things they’ve done. It’s more challenging to get a less experienced person to think about what to ask.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, people with less life experience tend to have an arrogance about their knowledge and experience. They think those before them won’t get what they’ve done or that somehow aging makes you innocent and less likely to understand the trial and error and messiness of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Grandma had her day and has stories. She relates – we need to understand this – and realize what a badass grandma was in her day, and listen.